Note: I’m reviewing the albums as available in the UK on CD. Track listings sometimes vary from original Swedish releases.
Cover: After the success of Ring Ring, the group shelved their solo careers and put all energies into what was now labelled ABBA. The cover image of this, their second album, features the foursome in the costumes they wore at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. Napoleon is stood behind them, looking out of the window.
Best song: Again, it’s the title track. Waterloo has an odd lyrical metaphor, Napoleon’s famous defeat in June 1815 standing in for an addictive romance. But the song is catchy, energetic and full of attack. In effect, it’s just one three-minute-long ‘hook’. After it stormed Eurovision in Brighton on 6 April 1974, it became a global hit single.
* Hasta Mañana is a gentle, swaying, effortlessly pleasant ballad. The lyrics were written by ABBA’s manager, Stig Anderson, while on holiday in the Canary Islands. For a time, it vied with Waterloo as the song the group wanted to enter for Eurovision. It would have been a safer choice – the previous four winners had been female-sung ballads – but they decided to risk the rocker Waterloo and it paid off. Nonetheless, Hasta Mañana has a terrific lead vocal from Agnetha, a nice spoken-word interlude, and a general feel of Mediterranean bliss.
* My Mama Said has a hip, jazzy vibe, a cool bassline and delicate high vocals during the verses. (The recording session for the song was the first time the band called themselves ABBA.)
* Dance (While the Music Still Goes On) steals its beat from the Ronettes classic Be My Baby. It’s powerful, multi-layered pop, let down perhaps by the vocals being shared around. It took the group a while to learn that the girls should just sing everything.
* Similarly influenced by 1960s girl-group pop, Honey Honey and What About Livingstone are both good. The former has a nice, light-touch bridge section, while the latter sounds like prime Motown.
Worst song: King Kong Song is a lumbering rock track with muffled singing and some strange bass-deep backing vocals. An irritating comedy song. (After I’d written a draft of this review, I read on Wikipedia that Benny and Björn consider King Kong Song to be the worst thing they ever wrote. Great minds…)
Best CD extra: The disc comes with a bonus DVD, which features the band’s triumphant Eurovision performance. The BBC’s David Vine tells us accurately: “If all the judges were men, which they’re not, this group would get a lot of votes.” He’s then taken by surprise because conductor Sven-Olof Walldoff walks onto the stage dressed up as Napoleon Bonaparte. ABBA then burst into action – the costumes are as camp as anything, but the performance is committed (if not as polished as the LP version). They look like they’re having so much fun! They sing the song in English, unlike during the Swedish heat also available on the DVD.
Best video: The group’s promo film for the title track has a dramatic opening. It’s quickly cut and full of crash-zooms. But then it calms down for a reasonably straightforward performance of the song. Like the video for Ring Ring, which was made at the same time, the group are in a blank, white room. But they’ve changed into their Eurovision costumes and lost the backing band.
Review: There are traces of both 1960s Phil Spector and contemporary glam rock. The album is full of energy, is very dynamic, and is generally great fun.
Eight history books on the shelf out of 10.